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Full text of "Personal explanation of Hon. William N. H. Smith, of North Carolina, on the contest for speakership"

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Mr. Smith, of North Carolina. I ask the unanimous con- 
sent of the House to make a personal explanation. 

There was no objection. 

I ask the indulgence of the House to enable me, by a brief 
statement, to correct certain erroneous and unjust impressions 
which exist in the public mind, and more especially in my 
own district, growing out of the recent contest for the Speak- 
ership, and incidents connected with it. The proposed cor- 
rection is due to myself and others who, when my name was 
presented for that office, gave me a ready, warm, and earnest 

It has been represented, and, where correct and full sources 
of information are not accessible and the facts not known, be- 
lieved, that I made or authorized the declaration, not only 
that I had never been connected with the American organi- 
zation, and did not concur in any of the proscriptive features 
of its party creed, but had denounced and repudiated the 
party and its principles. 

That over-strong statements as to my relations with the 
American party were made in the progress of the exciting 
ballot of Friday by various gentlemen, who, when about to 
transfer their votes to me, assigned reasons for the change, I 
shall not undertake to deny. But, as there was much confu- 
sion, and no little difficulty of hearing in the Hall, I did not 
at that time fully apprehend their extent and import, as they 
afterwards appeared in the public prints, or a sense of duty 
would have constrained me to make the correction when they 
were uttered, without regard to prudential considerations or 
the suggestions of friends. 

Printed by Lemuel Towel's, at 50 cents per hundred copies. 

£ 43 6 

When the debate was afterwards published, and I saw the 
false and injurious position in which, uncorrected, they would 
place me — of being subjected to suspicion, if not imputation ; 
of seeking an office of such high character through miscon- 
ceptions which, if not originating with me, would be counte- 
nanced by ray silence — I determined to occupy no such equiv- 
ocal position before the House and the country; and, before 
another ballot could be had, to make a distinct avowal of my 
party relations upon this floor. 

"With this purpose I prepared a statement which, with some 
slight modifications not affecting its substance, I now hold in 
my hand ; and entered this Hall on Monday intending to sub- 
mit it to the consideration of the House, unless relieved of the 
embarrassments in which the former proceedings had here 
had left me. I will read it : 

" ~Mj attention has been directed to the remarks of honora- 
ble gentlemen — members of this House — as reported in the 
public papers, and made during the progress of the ballot for 
Speaker on Friday last, which require, at the earliest moment, 
explanation at my hands. The remarks to which I refer are 
predicated mainly upon a brief, hurried, and interrupted con- 
versation that took place at my seat just before, between the 
honorable member from Ohio (Mr. Pendleton) and myself. 

" The statement made on the floor by the honorable mem- 
ber himself, while not professing to give the details of what 
passed, is substantially correct as to its results, inasmuch as I 
made known to him the grounds I had taken in my canvass 
in 1857 ; and there was nothing whatever prescriptive in them. 
It is true that, when interrogated, I said to him that I had 
never been a member of the American organization ; but had 
been, and still was, a Whig, and as such had been elected 
upon broad, conservative, national grounds. But I did not 
say, nor mean to be understood as saying, that I had denouced 
the American party, or repudiated its principles. So far as 
its views were proscriptive, they did not meet my approval. 

" Among those who have been in connection with that or- 
ganization, I recognize true and patriotic men, to whose 
hearty and earnest cooperation with other friends I owe the 
honor of having a seat upon this floor. I said to my friend, 
I could not be placed in antagonism to these gentlemen. 

"This explanation would have been made at the time, had 
the full import of the remarks, as afterwards published, 
been then properly understood. The misapprehension of 
my meaning indicated by the remarks referred to, were the 
very natural result of a brief and broken conversation, carried 
on in the midst of the high excitement and confusion that then 
prevailed in the House. 


"Let me add another word. While I have never felt or 
expressed a wish to be elevated to the responsible and distin- 
guished office of presiding over the deliberations of the Rep- 
resentatives of the people, grateful as such promotion must be 
to the just and honorable pride of any man, I should scorn to 
seek it through any misconceptions which I may myself have 
occasioned, or have if in my power to remove. 

"If placed in that elevated position by the action of this 
House, it must he with full knowledge of the fact that I main- 
tain the conservative and national principles of that great 
party whose leader was the sage of Ashland, our pride and 
our boast; and J shall assume the chair untrammeled and 
unpledged, save by a sincere aud sacred regard for the Con- 
stitution of my country, and for the just rights secured by it 
to each and every part of our Confederacy." 

When, however, the Glohe made its appearance, and I read 
the corrected and authentic record, which was to go out to 
the country, differing as it does from the previous reports 
which I had seen, and when the honorable member from Ar- 
kansas (Mr. IIindman) very promptly, and in a few words, 
corrected the published remarks which had fallen from him 
in the heated contest of Friday, thereby exonerating me from 
the charge of an indiscriminate denunciation and repudiation 
of the American party and its principles, I deemed no further 
explanation required from me, and that no just ground had 
been left for improper and injurious charges affecting myself. 

In this connection 1 desire to call the attention of the House 
to the remarks of the honorable member from Pennsylvania, 
(Mr. Montgomery,) followed by those of the honorable gen- 
tleman from Ohio, (Mr. Pendleton.) On that occasion the 
following language was used by them: 

"Mr. MONTGOMERY. And now, I desire to say a word in relation to the po- 
sition of the gentleman presented as a candidate for the Speakership of this 
body. Mr. Smith, of North Carolina, belongs to none of the organized parties 
in this House, lie belongs to the remnant left of that glorious old party, at 
ad of which stood iii years gone by a Clay and a Webster; he is an old- 
line Whig, who remains true to the principles and policy of that ancient and 
honorable party, and as such I can vole for him. If he were an American, or 
if In' advocated their principles, I could not and would not vote for him. I 
have said in this House, heretofore, and I repeat it now, that I never have cast, 
and never will cast a vote for any one who holds that it is a cause for proscrip- 
tion thai a man was born where God made him, or that to worship God ac- 
cording to the did atrs of a man's conscience is a crime or a disgrace. I des- 
pise such narrow-hearted policy, and detest such bigotry and proscription. 

" But, sir, 1 have s:iid that Mr. Smith does not. belong to th<' American organi- 
zation, and never did. He is a patriotic Whig, a friend of protection to Ameri- 
can industry, a national man, a conservative man, a supporter of the Constitu- 
tion, a friend of the Union, and as such I can give him my support. Trammel- 
ed by none of the embarrassing epiestions of the past, with no objectionable 
record, a gentleman of rare intelligence and high social virtues, he will adorn 
the Speaker's chair and preside over our deliberations with fairness and impar- 

tiality. lie remains a way-mark of the great party that has passed away — 
almost a last survivor of a race of giants. In a time like this, when no party 

has a majority, when no one organization can control an election, it is pecu- 
liarly fit to select one who, differing with us all, owes favoritism to none. 
Some of my northern Democratic friends have said that they would unite upon 
him w lien tlu-ir friends come to the rescue. I am not going to say that; 1 am 
willing to give no such excuse; I will not be a stumbling-block to others. I 
act independently, and from pure motives, and I take the responsibility. 1 in- 
tend to change my vote, and others can do as they please. For these reasons, 
and prompted by'the motives I have hastily expressed, I now change my vote 
from Mr. Davis to Mr. Smith, of North Carolina. (Applause.)" 

"Mr. Pendleton. Mr. Clerk, I represent on this floor a constituency which 
is composed of native-born and foreign-born citizens. Among them are a large 
number of Germans and Irish, of both religions, Catholic and Protestant. They 
are as honorable, as patriotic, as faithful to the Constitution of their adopted 
country as any of those who were born upon the soil. I owe much to their 
confidence and support heretofore. I would not violate my own convictions 
of duty by voting for any man whose political principles tend to degrade or 
injure them — whose sympathies are opposed to them. But I have made inqui- 
ries of the gentleman who is presented here as a candidate to-day. I have 
gone to the fountain-head for information, and 1 have learned that he never 
was a member of the Know Nothing party; that he has never taken any 
pledges; and that he does not sympathize with any of their prescriptive prin- 
ciples or doctrines. Sir, I would not yield any essential principle; but I would 
yield much of partisan feeling and prejudice, to effect an organization of this 
House. And the difficulty with me having now been removed, I am willing 
to unite with the conservative elements here for that purpose. 

" I have voted for Mr. John G. Davis. I desire to change that vote, and to 
vote for Mr. Smith, of North Carolina. (Applause..)" 

I wish, also, to read those made by the honorable member 
from Ohio, (Mr. Cox,) who, as he states, spoke only upon in- 
formation derived from his colleague : 

"Mr. Cox. It is well known that I stated to this House that I never could 
vote for any gentleman of the Know Nothing organization. I said I never 
would vote for either a Republican or Know Nothing. I never will. I have 
satisfied myself beyond any possibility of mistake, that the gentleman from 
North Carolina (Mr. Smith) is opposed to the prescriptive doctrines of the Know 
Nothing organization. I saw my colleague (Mr. Pendleton) in conversation 
with that gentleman, and I inquired of him what that conversation was. He 
satisfied me, as Mr. Smith satisfied him, that Mr. Smith is not and never had 
been a member of the Know Nothing order, or in any way connected with it. 
As I make this remark, the gentleman from Kentucky, (Mr. Mallouy,) belonging 
to the American party, bows assent to it. 

"<)n the other hand, I find that trcntlemen on the Republican side, who, in 
the first instance, voted for Mr. Smith, now, on learning the fact that he is not 
a Know Nothing, have made that a pretext for withdrawing their votes from 
him. They have done this for the openly avowed reason that he is an old line 
conservative Whig, without any Know Nothing faint. 

"Under these circumstances, I shall vote for Mr. Smith; and for the additional 
reason that it will bring about, as I believe, and as 1 am informed by the condi- 
tion of the ballot now, an organization of this House. In no other contingency 
would I give my vote to a gentleman not belonging to my own party. I believe 
in doing this that I am doing justice to the national men who sent me here, and 
to the oath I expect to take to support the Constitution. As a member of this 
coordinate branch of the Government, upon which the Constitution itself re- 
poses for its execution, and which is utterly disorganized, I believe that I will 
do my highest duty, if, by my vote, .1 can bring about its organization by the 
election of an old-line Whig, who, here in my presence, as I now look at him, 
disavows the Know Nothing organization. With this view, I am acting, as I 
understand, with nearly every Democratic gentleman from the West, I agree 

■with almost every Democrat on tbe floor. I ask the privilege of changing my 
vote from Mr. Booook, for whom I have voted persistently all along, to William 
N. H. Smith, of North Carolina, (Applauee from the Democratic side and from 
the galleries.) 

"The position of th« NortHw< item Democrats is well known. We went into 
a caucus <if the Democratic party resolved '" stand by its organization and it-; 
nominee to the end. We voted all the time tor .Mr. Booock, until his name was 
withdrawn in a speech which be made here. We supported Mr. Joss 6. Davis, 
of the Northwest, who, was, perhaps, in closer relationship to us than even the 
gentleman from Virginia. We have voted also for the distinguished gentleman 
from Virginia, (Mr. Millsok.) We 'nave been all over the Bouse t<> get a true, 
conservative man; notwithstanding ho may have differed from as in some par- 
ticulars of his politics. After seven weeks of exhausting labor, of constant vigi- 
of pressing emergency in the country, we have come together now, at 
this juncture, ami reached that, point when the election of a Speaker is possible. 
And I coui, 1 nol answer to my constituents, 1 could not answer to that sense of 
duty from which 1 alwavs act, unless 1 came up here now ami contributed my 
part to an organization based upon national conservative principles. 

" I am a war,-, -ir, that it has been Baid here by gentlemen that southern men 
have not the Bame opinions on the subject of slavery that, northern and north* 
■western "Democrats have. I learn, however, that the gentleman who ran against 
ami was beaten by -Mr. SMITH, of North Carolina, uttered sentiments in favor of 
a slave code, which have no more affiliation with my views upon that subject 
than tli.' views of some of the gentlemen for whom Democrats have voted. I 
have been reluctant to go South to vote for any man who belonged to the 
Enow Nothing organization. Thar was well known. It was known thai do 
such man could be elected. Ilenee, Mr. Smith is presented, because lie is not 
such a man. i will vote for him, because he is imbued with national and Union 
Bentiments; so that, when he takes that chair, he will do his whole duty to the 
country. 1 come from a State which, although Republican, as represented on 
this floor, has in its heart— at its capital district, which I represent-— a true 
Union feeling that the men of that State will not willingly let die. I pay hom- 
age to that feeling in my present vote. 

"Mr. HlLL. I wish to ask the gentleman whether, in his present action, he 
is influenced by r< rences her, — the withdrawal of certain votes from 

Mr. Smith on the other side of the House. I believe because he is not an Ameri- 
can! 1 have not known myself that the American party or the Whig party 
were particularly in the keeping of that side of the House at this time. I 
merely direel the gentleman's attention to the matter to know if that circum- 
stance has in any degree influenced his vote. 

"Mr. Cox. From what transpired on the Republican side of the House, 1 
saw gentlemen who voted for Mr. Smith, of North Carolina, withdraw their 
votes, putting it upon the direct and express ground that he was not a Know 
Nothing. That they withdrew their votes, whether in good faith or not, I re- 
garded as confirmatory of the truth stated by the gentleman from North Caro- 
lina himself, that he had no connection whatever with that order. Gentlemen 
on the other side have declared that Mr. Smith was not acceptable to them be- 
cause he \\a< not an American. I say that he is acceptable to the national men 
upon this side of the IIou>c because he is a member of the old Whig party. 
That party, as I learn from their platform, ever stood side by side with the 
Democratic party upon the great question connected with the slavery agitation. 
Th.y stood upon the compromises of 1850; compromises sustained by the 
Democratic party; compromises, sir, which, if carried out in the spirit in which 
thev were enacted, would bring about that concord and comity between the 
States which is so much desired in the present distraction of our public coun- 

I will also read those made by the honorable member from 
Arkansas, (Mr. Hihdman,) and his correction on Monday : 

"Mr. Clerk, at every ballot during this contest I have voted for a Democrat. 
I have thought all along, and still believe, that the southern Opposition ought 


to have brought their twenty-three votes to a man of our choice, a Democrat, 
instead of asking us lo carry our ninety-odd votes to a man of their choice — 
one of themselves. It has been unreasonable for them — a small faction, not 
controlling a eingle State in the Union — to demand such a concession of a great 
national party, composed, as ours is, of Representatives from every section. 

" But there seems to be a disposition among Democrats to make the sacrifice. 
It is believed that votes enough can he concentrated on the gentleman from 
North Carolina (Mr. Smith) to elect him Speaker, and to end this protracted 
struggle. Those good and true men, the Democrats of the North, who have 
made j o many proofs of devotion to the Constitution, indicate their willingness 
to give this further evidence of patriotism. I understand that most of. them, 
if not all, will vote for Mr. Smith, when it appears that their support will secure 
his election. Bat they cannot be expected to do this until the entire South 
shall have united upon him. Under these circumstances, I am not disposed to 
be an obstacle in the way of organization. I have heretofore said that i would, 
in the la*t resort, vote for a southern Oppositionist, in order to defeat the Black 
Republican candidate ; and I am now ready to take the responsibility by chang- 
ing my vote from Mr. Bocock to Mr. Smith. 

" But, before making the change, I state distinctly, that I vote for Mr. Smith 
with the express understanding that he has never belonged to or affiliated with 
the Know Nothing party, directly or indirectly; and that he has always con- 
demned and repudiated its doctrines. I vote for him with the understanding 
that he is an old-line Whig. In voting for him as such, I have no eulogy to 
pass on Whigery, and no indorsement to give to it. I have never done that; 
and shall not be so inconsistent as to do so now. But Whigery, as much as I 
condemn it, is far less objectionable than Black Republicanism. Between too 
evils, I shall choose the least. I vote for Mr. Smith." 


On the Monday following he made the explanatory re- 
marks : 

"Mr. Hindman (when his name was called) said: I see by the report in the 
Globe of Friday's proceedings that I am represented as saying : 

"'I vote for Mr. Smith with the express understanding that he has never 
belonged to or affiliated with the Know Nothing party, directly or indirectly; 
and that he has always condemned and repudiated its doctrines.' 

"I should have said that I was informed that Mr. Smith did not sympathize 
with the prescriptive doctrines of that party." 

It will tints be seen, that I am represented as saying that I 
have always been, and am still, a Whig ; that I have never 
been a member of the American organization ; and that I did 
not concur in or sympathize with any proscriptive features of 
its party creed. 

This is strictly correct. Some of the measures of the Ameri- 
can party, as I freely stated to my friend, did command my 
approval; hut there was nothing proscriptive in them. I 
could not commit the wrong of denouncing men to whose 
] patriotic and earnest efforts I owed, in no inconsiderable de- 
gree, the honor of being a member of this body. I regretted 
very much the harsh language which was used by some on 
that occasion, when speaking of the American party. I at- 
tributed it mostly to the peculiar circumstances in which gen- 
tlemen were placed, and as a necessary self-protection against 
unfounded charges at home. It was painful, nevertheless, to 
listen to language which fell so harshly upon the ears, not 


f only of my friends at home, but of that portion of this House 
constituting the Bonthera ( Opposition, who so manfully, in spite 
of all, stood by me to the end. 

Still, the statements to which I have called the attention of 
this House are strictly correct. I have nothing to add to 
them; nothing to subtract from them. It is true, I am a 
Whig. 1 stand where, for more than twenty-live years, I 
have stood, without faltering, amid the mutations of party 
names and party organizations ; looking upon the great in- 
terests of the country as illuminated in the light shed upon 
them by the masterspirits of the generation of statesmen that 
is pasf, ami clinging, with filial devotion, to that noble stand- 
ard which so long waved over the gallant, patriotic Whigs of 
the school of Henry Clay. 

In that great party there was, there could be, no sectional- 
ism. It had no double readings to its political creed. It was 
eminently a national party, knowing no North, South, East, 
or West, but coextensive with the length and breadth of the 
Confederacy. With the alleged disintegration of its organ- 
ized existence, the principles committed to its keeping have 
not perished. They still live, and are cherished in the affec- 
tions of the great mass of our people. The American heart 
vet throbs with deeper energy of pulsation, when that name 
is pronounced which so often led its embattled hosts to action. 
The eminent nationality of purpose and principle which the 
favorite son of Kentucky breathed into that party, giving to 
it its vital energy, is still looked to to guide us safety through 
surrounding perils. 

I have aw abiding faith in the permanency of free institu- 
tions — in the continuance of our nationality. I hope to see 
the ultimate triumph of the conservative sentiment which 
found its just expression in Henry Clay, and in his public life. 

I hope to see that vast sectional organization, held together 
by the single cohesion of hostility to the institutions of nearly 
one half of our confederated States, now brooding over the, 
almost entire North, and smothering the generous and patri- 
otic aspirations that struggle to break from the pressure; an 
organization which, in producing a natural and necessary an- 
tagonism in the South, has alomst rent us in twain, and ar- 
rayed section against section in fierce conflict, threatening, in 
its further aggressive progress, the overthrow of our political 
institutions — -I hope to see this organization, in all its pride of 
strength, crumbling and wasting before the consuming fires 
of popular wrath, as winter snows dissolve and disappear un- 
der the returning heat of spring. I hope to witness the union 
of true and just men everywhere in resolute resistance to the 
sectional spirit which animates and directs its movements. 

When, laying aside the bitter party feuds and fierce con- 


fcentions which now mo IllElv ' divide ' l 

people, one in the glori< lll||llMllllUA ,ld one > i{ ' 
should be, in its high in g gii 898 327 • ie future, 

the popular mind shall .■- w mo uasiB Of compromise 

which men of all parties assisted in forming in 1850 ; which 
both national conventions of 1852 approved, and adopted as 
the ground of a lasting settlement; which constitutes the 
crowning glory of that pure, just, and honorable administra- 
tion, which, in the midst of a profound peace, closed with the 
retirement of Millard Fillmore from the public service ; when, 
again, the conservative elements, attracted by a true devotion 
and love of country, shall return to this compromise, then, sir, 
may we hope for a restoration of that harmony and good will 
which were its first beneficent fruits; then will pass away 
the dark clouds gathering upon our horizon, and portentous 
of disaster and danger ; then may our proud old ship, which 
has buffeted the surges of many storms, and yet rejoices in 
her compact, unbroken strength and beauty, leave the moor- 
ings to which the outer tempest had driven her for shelter 
from its violence, and spread her sails to favoring breezes as 
she starts upon her voyage over the wide ocean of national